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Giants’ 90-man roster: Can Sterling Shepard continue building on his expanded role in the offense?

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Fourth-year receiver is now the most senior member of the Giants receiving corps

NFL: New York Giants at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

For the second year in a row, New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman this offseason extended a receiver who was one the final year of his rookie deal.

But in case anyone is worried that this is another “We didn’t sign him to trade him” scenario, that doesn’t appear to be in the plans. No, Sterling Shepard, the young wideout who last season had one of his best seasons statistically, is all about the production and less about the distractions that came with Odell Beckham Jr., intentionally or otherwise.

Shepard, 26 years old, has quietly developed into a young leader on that offense and is now the longest-tenured member of the Giants receiving corps.

But for those who might be worried that Shepard isn’t a true No. 1 receiver, Tyke Tolbert, the Giants receivers coach, said it doesn’t matter in this case.

“I believe Sterling Shepard is going to be the best Sterling Shepard that he can be,” Tolbert said in May.

“One, two, five, six — it doesn’t matter what number receiver you put on it. He’s going to be the best Sterling Shepard he can be, and that’s how we are going to approach it.”

The basics

Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 194
Age: 26
Position: Receiver
Experience: 4th

2018 season in review

Shepard saw his role in the Giants offense increase significantly under Pat Shurmur and Mike Shula.

Whereas Shepard was predominantly a slot receiver in his first two seasons in the NFL, taking 86.1 percent (2016) and 83.8 percent (2017) of his pass targets from the slot, last season that number dipped to 58.2 percent, which meant that Shepard was seeing more work playing on the outside.

As a result, Shepard, who played in only his second 16-game season of his career, logged career highs in receptions (66), receiving yards (872), and big-play passes of 20 or more yards (12).

The most significant jump though was in his average yards per reception, a number that has risen steadily from his rookie campaign (10.5 yards per catch in 2016 to 13.2 yards per catch last year).

That kind of steady increase in production is a big reason why Shepard received a contract extension now as opposed to waiting until next year.

2019 outlook

With no Beckham in the lineup, expect Shepard to continue to see even more targets thrown his way from both the outside and slot positions, the latter from which all 14 of his career touchdown receptions have come.

Numerous factors make Shepard a good slot receiver, including his ability to find soft spots in the coverage, his catch radius, and his lack of fear of taking a crushing hit over the middle.

It’s also been nice to see him get opportunities on the outside where he’s shown himself capable of fighting off jams and has done well with timing patterns in this offense—all factors that should continue to help his overall production in this system increase.

If there is one statistic that Shepard will need to keep an eye on, it’s his dropped passes. Per Pro Football Focus, Shepard dropped eight balls last year, matching his total drops in 2016, his rookie season (and his only other 16-game season thus far in his career).